Updated: Oct 20, 2021
Legends of the Pope Lick Monster have been passed down in our community for generations. Whether it's the sheep-man hybrid from the freak show escaping from a crashed circus train, a Native American skin walker seeking vengeance against new settlers in the region, or a satanic farmer sacrificing goats to fuel his transformation, they all have one thing in common: the Pope Lick Trestle is deadly. The dangers of the Pope Lick Trestle are no myth. Since its construction in the late 1800s, the trestle has been responsible for dozens of deaths and countless injuries, and has been a source of trauma for many victims, families, and railroad employees. While individual accounts of specific incidents are suspiciously hard to track down online, Beargrass Thunder has been able to consolidate a list of official news stories and articles regarding the dangers of the trestle.
The following stories remind us why it’s so important to resist the monster’s telepathic control - stay off the trestle.
Deaths and Injuries at Pope Lick Trestle
Savanna Bright is the most recent-known tragedy that has occurred at the Pope Lick Trestle. On May 26, 2019 Savanna and her friend, Kaylee, were walking along the trestle on a Sunday night. They had been on the trestle a couple times before and were returning to take some pictures for Instagram when disaster struck. The two girls were caught out on the trestle when they noticed the oncoming train, but it was too late.
The wooden tracks were spaced just far enough apart, making it impossible to run or evade. Savanna, only 15 years old, was hit by the oncoming train. She died instantly. Kaylee managed to survive the fall from the trestle, but received life-threatening injuries that she continues to recover from.
Savanna’s photos on the trestle, along with many others who chose to take the risk, remain under the Pope Lick Train Trestle Instagram tag, serving as a grim reminder of the fate that people risk when they choose to walk out onto the trestle.
On Saturday, April 23rd, 2016, Roquel Bain and her boyfriend, Dayton, Ohio residents, were visiting Louisville and had a tour of Waverly Hills Sanitorium scheduled for that night. Before Waverly, the couple decided to investigate the famous Pope Lick Monster legend, and headed to Pope Lick Road.
They made the fateful mistake of walking out onto the wooden trestle. By the time they noticed the oncoming train, it was too late. Roquel and her boyfriend knew it was hopeless to try to outrun the train, and their best hope was to hang off the side of the tracks. However, Roquel was unable to move fast enough, and was struck by a Northfolk Southern train. These trains can weigh hundreds of thousands of tons and move at up to 50 miles per hour.
At 26 years old, Roquel died at the scene from multiple blunt force impacts sustained from the impact of the train and subsequent 100-foot fall from the trestle to the ground. Her boyfriend was able to successfully survive with no injuries by dangling off the side of the tracks.
In November of 2000, a 19 year old UofL student named Nicholas Jewell was caught on the trestle. His only hope of survival was clinging to the side long enough to let the train pass. Despite his best efforts, the vibrations from the train shook him loose, and he fell to his death.
In April of 1994, a 35 year old man named James Ratterman was attempting to cross the trestle on an ATV when a true living nightmare occurred. The ATV flipped over, pinning James underneath. The conductor and engineer of the train watched helplessly as James desperately tried to kick the ATV off of him. Unfortunately, James was unable to free himself from the wreck, and the train couldn’t stop in time. James died at the scene.
Fortunately, not all incidents result in deaths. Michael Wells, a 14 year old in 1994, was able to avoid an oncoming train by tucking his body underneath the wooden tracks of the trestle, hanging on until the train passed overhead. He is one of the lucky ones.
In 1993, Christina Butts, along with two other young women and three young men, were almost across the trestle when they saw the light from the oncoming train. All managed to survive with minor injuries by climbing down onto the metal parts of the trestle. Christina, who was paralyzed by fear and too frightened to move, was rescued by firefighters. According to her rescuers, the ladder had just enough length to reach where she was precariously perched on the trestle beams. Had she been any higher, they would not have been able to reach her.
In 1992, a Miami University student named Grady was walking across the trestle at night. Like many others, it was too late when the oncoming train was noticed. Too far from either side Grady’s only hope was to hang onto a railroad tie. Sadly, they couldn’t hold on long enough. At approximately 1:45am, Grady fell 100 feet from the trestle to the ground.
Jack “J.C.” Charles Bahm II was a 17-year old Spalding University student in 1987. On February 18th of that year, he was struck and killed by a train while on the trestle. Spray painted at the base of the trestle, the words “JC we love and miss you” can be found spray painted - a eulogy to his death above.
David Wayne Bryant was another young man who died due to crossing the Pope Lick Trestle. In 1986, he was able to avoid an oncoming locomotive by jumping off of the trestle. Unfortunately he sustained severe injuries, from which he passed away from in May the next year.
John K List was struck and killed by a Southern Railroad Company train on June 1st, 1985. John and his friend, Randall Graves had been on the trestle, shooting crows when the train approached. Randall was able to survive by hanging from a cross tie as the train passed above. John tried to outrun the train, and was unfortunately struck and killed when we was just 30 feet from the end of the trestle.
History of the Trestle
These are just some of the most easily verifiable accounts of the deaths & injuries that have taken place at the Pope Lick Trestle. Events such as these are all-too-common for the entire history of the trestle since it’s construction in the late 1800s. Hundreds more anecdotal reports are shared by locals online in Reddit threads and Facebook groups. It seems like just about everyone in and around Louisville knows someone who has a story that takes place at Pope Lick Trestle. We’d love to hear yours!
Many people are fooled by the rusty and rickety appearance of the trestle, and think that the tracks are out of service. This has proved a deadly assumption for many, as the tracks are still very active and carry a major rail artery into Louisville. As many as twenty five heavy freight trains cross the bridge daily.
The surrounding hills and woodland dampen light and sound from oncoming trains, and it will be too late to escape once you become aware. The wooden tracks are spaced in a way that make it impossible to run, and few people possess the strength and endurance to hang on to the side for the five to seven minutes it would take the train to pass, all the while generating vibrations strong enough to shake the entire ground one hundred feet below.
In 1998, The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster film was released, much to the dismay of Norfolk Southern Railway. During the December 29, 1998 premiere, Norfolk Southern issued a statement which warned of the trestle's dangers and informed the audience that anyone caught on the trestle would be prosecuted for trespassing.
Recently, the land surrounding Pope Lick Trestle has been acquired by The Parklands of Floyds Fork and now features a walking path that goes under the trestle, connecting Pope Lick Park to other parks and areas along the loop. The site is also home to Legend at Pope Lick, a haunted hike through a trail which we highly recommend.
Safety & Solutions
In the first ever episode of the Beargrass Thunder podcast back in 2018, we discussed possible solutions to trespassing on the trestle. One of which would involve erecting a statue or monument of the Pope Lick Monster along the trail in the woods. This way, there would be a destination and photo opportunity other than the trestle itself. Tourists, cryptid hunters, folklore fans, and paranormal enthusiasts could have a place to meet away from the danger of the train tracks. It could help bring awareness to the very real death and tragedy that has already taken place.
At one point, there were platforms along either side of the bridge. However, they were removed by the railway company to dissuade people from attempting to cross the tracks. After the most recently documented death in 2019, residents are questioning if this is still a valid solution. Should the railroad company be responsible for re-installing platforms to potentially save lives, or would this just be promoting more people to trespass and put even more lives in danger?
WDRB: Friends and family of teens hit by train urge people to stay away from trestle (May 28, 2019)
WAVE3: Friend pushes for changes to railroad track after teen was hit, killed (May. 29, 2019)
WAVE3: ‘Stay off the tracks’: Officials warn of deadly history of Pope Lick train trestle (May. 29, 2019)
If you have any ideas for solutions to help prevent trespassers for putting lives in danger, accounts of injuries of death not yet listed, or even your own anecdotal reports and stories, we would love to hear from you! Post a comment, message us on social media, or send us an email!
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